Category: Teen

Dress Codes for Small Towns by Courtney Stevens

Dress Codes for Small Towns by Courtney Stevens

Dress Codes for Small Towns by Courtney Stevens (9780062398512)

Billie lives in a small town where each year a worthy woman wins the “Corn Dolly.” Billie knows she will never be chosen to compete for it, since she is not the type of girl or woman who gets picked. She is the preacher’s daughter, but she’s also part of the group of teens, the Hexagon, that started her father’s church on fire. Billie loves her friends, taking comfort in their ease with one another. Still, when her best friend Janie Lee confesses that she has a crush on Woods, Billie is devastated. Billie isn’t quite sure what she wants though, could it be that she loves Woods too? Or maybe Janie Lee? As Billie wrestles with her sexuality in a small town, she discovers unexpected allies, new friends, and the power of being yourself.

As someone who grew up outside of a small town, Stevens captures small town life beautifully, from the comfort of knowing everyone to the suffocating nature of everyone knowing you. The micro-world of the small town is so well drawn, demonstrating why one would never leave at the same time showing why some run as soon as they can. This tension plays throughout the book, offering a scaffold for Billie’s questioning of her sexuality that is supportive and evocative.

Billie is exactly the heroine we need right now. She is strong beyond belief, a clear anchor for those in her life. Still, she wrestles with so much, from what it means to be a girl and be feminine to what it means to be in love with a person but not want to “be” with them. There is nothing easy about Billie, she is complex and wondrous. She’s an artist, an inadvertent activist, a hard worker, one-of-the-guys and clearly unaware of her own appeal and beauty. She’s incandescent on the page, a fire to be warmed by.

Complicated and incredibly poignant, this novel for teens rocks. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from e-galley received from Edelweiss and HarperCollins.

Genuine Fraud by E. Lockhart

Genuine Fraud by E Lockhart

Genuine Fraud by E. Lockhart (9780385744775)

Written by a master YA novelist, this book is deliciously dark, wonderfully deceptive and completely intoxicating. Imogen is an heiress, adopted as a child from poverty into New York money. She lives a life that is glamorous, easy and often nasty. Jule is Imogen’s friend, who trails along with Imogen as she heads around the world. But the police are onto Jule, who knows she can stay one step ahead of them as she runs from her past. Jule longs to stay in the bubble of wealth that Imogen lives in, but it’s not easy particularly when Imogen disappears. As the story unwinds and unravels, there is blood and murder revealed.

Lockhart writes an almost-classic tale here that will enthrall teen readers. Carefully crafted with a series of reveals that steadily expose the truth, the book is completely captivating. Readers will attempt to unravel what has happened, but Lockhart writes with a control that is exceptional, holding the story and her readers right where she wants them.

While Imogen lives a charmed life, it is the character of Jule who is impressively drawn on the page. She is complicated and calculating and still somehow, even though readers will have mixed feelings about her throughout the book, she is a heroine. She is a girl who flees her past, creates her own present and plans for a new future. She is not waiting to be handed things, but taking them. Fearless, hardened and fantastic.

Get this into the hands of those who loved We Were Liars as Lockhart takes readers on another amazing ride of a read. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from ARC received from Delacorte Press.

The Epic Crush of Genie Lo by F. C. Yee

The Epic Crush of Genie Lo by FC Yee

The Epic Crush of Genie Lo by F. C. Yee (9781419725487)

Genie has been focused on getting into an Ivy League school. She has perfect grades, plays killer volleyball and is getting help seeming more human in her application essays. But suddenly things aren’t going to plan when her Bay Area town is attacked by demons. At the same time, a new transfer student comes to her school. Quentin is gorgeous and maddening and clearly connected to the demon attack. As Genie learns about her own powers, she also learns about Chinese mythology as it comes to life around her. Quested with removing the demons from her town and the greater Bay Area, Genie uses her superior studying and learning techniques to figure things out. But even her intelligence might be too late to see what is really happening around her.

I adored this book. It has a kick-ass heroine with mythical previous lives and a razor-sharp humor. Yee made a great choice to combine the pressures of getting into a good school with the high expectations when Gods send you on quests. The duality of those roles is cleverly built upon. Add in the genius humor of the Monkey King and his mix of honor, silliness and skepticism and you have the ideal foil for Genie and her hard-working ways.

I was particularly impressed with the way the mythology is presented in the novel. Only once does it become necessarily explanatory and the rest of the time it simply plays out in front of the reader in a natural way. The twist at the end of the book is surprising but also makes sense. It’s exactly what a book should do and the pace is wild and success never assumed.

A perfect blend of high octane fights, high expectations and mythology, this book is unique and clearly the beginning of a great series. I can’t wait for the next adventure. Appropriate for ages 12-16.

ARC provided by Amulet Books.

Landscape with Invisible Hand by M.T. Anderson

Landscape with Invisible Hand by MT Anderson

Landscape with Invisible Hand by M.T. Anderson (9780763687892)

The author of Feed returns to dystopian science fiction in this short and thrillingly sharp novel. Adam can remember the time before the vuvv came to Earth. They brought technologies, medical breakthroughs, and new money for the economy. But as everything was replaced with alien technology, it moved behind a pay wall that made clean water, medical treatment and safe housing impossible for most humans to afford. The lucky wealthy humans live in floating cities high above the decaying world. Adam though is trapped on Earth, looking for a way to save his family. He and his girlfriend decide to make films of their lives for the vuvv, but it all has to be 1950’s style romance and nothing kills real love faster than having to produce it on a schedule. As Adam’s romance fizzles, he comes up with one last chance to save his family but his illness from drinking polluted water may take away his one shot.

Anderson’s writing is refreshingly frank. Adam narrates the book with a bleakness that is understandable and exactly the right tone. There is a sense of horror as the book continues; the ramifications of pay walls, levels of society, and the denial of simple necessities ring very true and very close to home. Even without an alien invasion, this could be the future of our society, one that is brutal, unconscionable and desperate. It is the frenzied need to attract the vuvv’s attention that makes this book so riveting. One can’t look away, particularly as the climax becomes so horrifying.

Anderson skillfully places fine art into the mix of the book, giving Adam the gift of art and the decision of what to capture with his old-fashioned paint and canvas. It is art that shows the desolation of Earth but also what might prove to be Adam’s salvation if he is willing to modify what he does for the vuvv.

Get this one into the hands of dystopian fans. It is also short enough at 160 pages that it could be shared in a classroom setting and would lead to fascinating discussions about society today and in the future. Appropriate for ages 15-18.

ARC received from Candlewick Press.

Solo by Kwame Alexander

Solo by Kwame Alexander

Solo by Kwame Alexander (9780310761839, Amazon)

Blade has grown up with all sorts of privileges as the son of a rock star, but the big house and huge parties come at a cost. His father is always humiliating him, like when he crashes (literally) Blade’s graduation ceremony where Blade is meant to give a speech. His father tries to clean up his act regularly, but it never seems to stick and he returns to drugs and alcohol. Blade also misses his mother terribly after her death. When Blade finally confronts his father about his behavior, a family secret is revealed that changes Blade’s perspective permanently. He sets off to discover his own history, a journey that takes him to Ghana, a place entirely different than the one he has been living in.

Newbery-Medal winner Alexander has crafted another amazing verse novel here. He moves firmly into teen territory here, with a 17-year-old protagonist who is truly on a journey to discover himself. Alexander starts the novel with the excess of a rock legend’s life and then beautifully changes the novel mid-course to Ghana and people who live as a strong community with few luxuries. The two settings could not be more different nor could what Blade feels while he is in each. Ghana is vividly depicted as is Blade’s reaction to it, rich with people and place.

Alexander’s poetry writing is superb in both settings. Yet it truly comes alive in Ghana, particularly with Joy, Blade’s guide and inspiration while there. Just as Blade cannot look away from Joy, neither can the novel nor the reader since she is so captivating. Throughout the book, there are questions asked that are deep, about wealth and poverty, about privilege and race, about addiction and recovery, about parenting and failure. This is a rich book filled with lots to discover and discuss.

A great read that will be enjoyed by even those teens who may not think they’d like a verse novel. Appropriate for ages 15-18.

Reviewed from ARC received from HarperCollins.

Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia

Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia

Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia (9780062290137, Amazon)

No one knows that Eliza, a senior in high school, is the creator of the immensely popular webcomic, Monstrous Sea. She spends her days at school working on art for the comic and trying to be invisible. Then a new boy, Wallace, comes to her school. He has the looks of a football player, but doesn’t seem to say much at all, instead spending his time writing. Eliza soon learns that he is a major fan of her webcomic. As their friendship grows and starts to turn into a romance, the two of them do most of their communicating through texts, online chat and written notes. Eliza has to decide whether to share her secret of being the creator of Monstrous Sea with Wallace or whether she can stay anonymous much longer.

Zappia’s writing is completely captivating. She writes with a lovely confidence, telling the story of an introverted young creator with grace and understanding. Her characters are deeply human, struggling with real trauma and finding their safe place in communities online where they can be authentic and original. She speaks to the power of art and creativity in your life, making something that you can’t stop creating and having others find value in it too. Still, there is a tipping point where fans’ expectations can become too much and overwhelm the creative process. Zappia shows how mental distress can be dealt with and progress forward can be made, slowly.

Perhaps one of the greatest things about this book, though there are many great elements is Zappia’s portrayal of introverts. There is a coziness here, a feeling of safety in the pages, as if they are forming a critical spot for introverts to bloom, just like an online community. The book shows how introverts may be awkward but are also incredibly creative, thoughtful and deep people who just need their home and dog to recharge sometimes, alright often. The book allows Eliza and Wallace to steadily use online tools to communicate and learn about one another, building their relationship with honesty and humor.

Get this in the hands of Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from library copy.

Saints and Misfits by S.K. Ali

Saints and Misfits by SK Ali

Saints and Misfits by S.K. Ali (9781481499248, Amazon)

At 15, Janna is a Muslim teen who is still trying to figure out who she is and how to deal with things happening in her life. She wears a hijab, like her mother, though her father doesn’t approve. Her brother has moved back in with Janna and her mother since his father pulled his funding for her brother’s college education when he switched majors. Janna is attracted to a white boy at her school and finds herself being cyber-bullied by some of his friends. Worst of all though is that another boy who is considered to be an upstanding young man tried to rape Janna. She can’t find a way to tell people about what happened to her and the boy continues to stalk her. This modern look at the life of a teen Muslim girl is an important read that shows the strength of young women as they grapple with today’s issues.

Ali’s writing is fresh and fabulous. She invites readers into the day-to-day life of a Muslim family. The question of hijabs and niqabs are discussed and in many ways demystified for the non-Muslim reader. While the sexual assault is central to the book and vital to the story, there are also other moments that are critical in Janna’s growth. Some of these are small details of caring for an elderly neighbor or figuring out that saint-like girls may have other aspects to them as well. All of these smaller details add up to the strength that Janna needs to face her larger monster.

Janna is a great heroine. She is clearly written as a younger teen, something that we often don’t see in teen novels. Since she is younger, her growth is dynamic and entirely believable. Her relationship with her mother and brother are complicated and filled with teen reality. The same is true of her tumultuous relationship with the boy she likes and her friends. Just having friends who are non-Muslim is complicated, particularly when it exposes Janna far more than she is comfortable with.

A vitally important book that serves as a window and a mirror for people in every community, this book belongs in every public and high school library. Appropriate for ages 14-18.

Reviewed from copy received from Salaam Reads.